An American In Kyoto: The Jack B. Jost Story

Photograph of Jack B. Jost, an American figure skater who won a gold medal at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships in 1953
Photo courtesy "Skating"" magazine

The youngest child of Emily (Talleur) and John Henry Jost, John 'Jack' Berthyl Jost Jr. was born on May 10, 1930 in St. Louis, Missouri. Jack was a late addition to the family - there was a twelve year age difference between him and his eldest sister. His father was a sign painter, his grandfather a wagon maker and his eldest sister a telephone operator. As a teenager, Jack attended Grover Cleveland High School, where he held the school's tennis record for two years in a row. He got his start on the ice at the St. Louis Skating Club around the age of fourteen, working at the rink to pay for his lessons. The head professionals at the time were Rudy and Elsie Angola. He served as the President of his high school's ice skating club and in his free time enjoyed swimming and collecting classical records and performing in an a capella music group.

Figure skater Jack Jost (top row, second from right) with members of his high school tennis team
Jack Jost (top row, second from right) with members of his high school tennis team

Jack's first big success in the skating world came just after World War II. At the Midwestern Championships in Cleveland in 1947, he entered the novice men's event. The day of the free skating, he took a fall so hard during his performance that he knocked himself out. He was allowed to re-skate his performance the next day and performed so brilliantly that he ended up in first place, ahead of Evy Scotvold and David Jenkins. That summer, Jack and his dance partner Mary Lou Rolfson finished second at the Summer Dance Competition in Rochester to Caryl Johns and Rex Cook. He teamed up with Caryl, the daughter of a speed skater, two years later at the Baltimore Figure Skating Club in Maryland. He had followed his coaches (the Angola's) there after graduating from high school.

Caryl and Jack trained for upwards of seven hours a day in singles, pairs and dance and took second in both Silver Dance and junior pairs at the 1950 U.S. Championships. That same year, Jack passed his Gold Figure and Freestyle Tests. In 1951, Caryl and Jack won both the U.S. junior pairs and Silver Dance titles and in passing their Gold Dance, joined an exclusive club of skaters who had passed both their Gold Figure and Gold Dance tests. 

In 1952, Caryl and Jack won the senior pairs title at the Eastern Championships and finished third in both the pairs and dance at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. The USFSA had decided to only send two pairs to the Olympics in Oslo that year, so had they finished just one spot higher they would have been sent. They were, however, sent to the World Championships in Paris, where they finished eighth in the pairs event. Their future looked promising, but fate had other ideas. Jack, then stationed as a Private at Fort Meade, was sent overseas to Japan to work as a dental assistant at an army hospital and Caryl turned professional to teach at the Milwaukee Figure Skating Club and work as a secretary at the Falk Corporation.

Photograph of Jack B. Jost, an American figure skater who won a gold medal at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships in 1953Photograph of Jack B. Jost, an American figure skater who won a gold medal at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships in 1953

Jack was one of several American figure skaters drafted by the U.S. military and sent off to Asia during the Korean War. His love of the sport never waned during his time in Japan. He saw newsreel footage of his former World teammate Dick Button's professional debut before the showing of an American film and was a regular at Kyoto and Nagoya's ice rinks. In 1953, he entered and won the men's event at the Japanese Championships at the Kōrakuen Ice Palace in Tokyo. The "Asahi Shimbum" reported that he was the first "foreigner" to win the title and it was quite a big deal at the time. However, his success wasn't met with universal praise by the other American skaters who were stationed overseas with the military at the time. Don Laws later remarked, "I believed and explained to my hosts that no foreigner should compete in any National Championship, that it should be reserved exclusively for the skaters of any given country. These competitions belonged to Japan and would allow them to know who were their best. However, because the Japanese had been to World competitions and had great aspirations, they were seeking encouragement and an audience. I truly believe that, more than anything else, this offer was a gesture of generosity. It hurt me to think that some hotshot might come in to that competition and show off... Sure enough, that void was filled unfortunately American, Jack Jost, who went in and of course took first place. In my view, there was pray little gain in that win."

Photograph of Jack B. Jost, an American figure skater who won a gold medal at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships in 1953
Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Though Jack only spent a couple of years in Japan, his influence was most certainly felt. When Tenley Albright and Hayes Alan Jenkins went on an overseas tour put on by Japan's National Skating Union and the "Asahi Shimbum" just months later, Jack joined them in the Osaka and Tokyo shows. Harry N. Keighley, then the Chairman of the USFSA International Committee wrote in "Skating" magazine, "His dance pair with a Japanese girl with whom he has been working was one of the highlights of the Osaka shows. There has never been too much interest in the dance in Japan but Jack has been working on it and the interest that now exists is due mainly to his influence." Less than a decade later, Japan sent its first pairs and dance teams to the World Championships.

"Tall, dark and handsome" Jack reached the rank of Corporal in the military and was a recipient of the Korean Service Medal and United Nation Service Medal. After his discharge in 1953, he went back to school - studying at the Dakota Business College in Fargo, North Dakota. He helped pay for his education by teaching at the Fargo-Moorhead Winter Club during the winters and the Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester, Minnesota during the summers. 

Jack went on to teach in Audobon, Pennsylvania, East Lansing, Michigan and with Kurt Oppelt at the Towne 'N Country Ice Rink in Strongsville, Ohio. He married twice and had four children, a step-son and thirteen grandchildren. His daughter Robin Neumann recalled, "He continued coaching for nearly fifty years in various cities and states around the country. He worked alongside the first pioneers of the Professional Skating Association and helped craft the current rating system for coaches. He was a brilliant technician with a keen eye for a skater's perfect form. His on-ice public persona was charming. He was a good story teller and used humorous analogies in his coaching his students rarely forgot - myself included. More importantly, he was a disciplined and brilliant technician; a stickler for excellent form."

Sadly, Jack passed away in Peoria, Arizona on December 9, 2015 at the age of eighty-five. Though he hasn't received a much recognition for his unique achievement, he certainly earned his place in the history books as the first (and only) American skater to win the Japanese men's title.

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